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Uenuku Fairhall – using symbolism and imagery

Uenuku discusses his thought processes in selecting images to enhance the kupu in his compositions.


He aha koa! He aha koa! Ko tā rātou i whakarite ai mō te pōkai tara? He ngārahu Pākehā. Mā te karoro, ngā kākā e arataki? Mahi kuare, mahi tinihanga. At the start, I compared the Pākehā officers, the Pākehā commander of the battalion of soldiers to a seagull, to the bird. You will recall how noisy and bossy a seagull’s cry is – “au, au” (the sound). Oh yes, that would be the best bird to serve as a metaphor for the Pākehā officers, thinking too of the colours of the feathers of the bird leading the kākā parrots. The Māori, too, were noisy in their own way like a kākā. But the kākā is a native bird from Aotearoa only, it’s not a bird that travels over the whole world on the oceans like the Pākehā, who have gone to every country in the world. That is why I chose the seagull for the Pākehā commanders, and the kākā parrot for the men themselves. And of course, in one line, a question is asked about these seagulls leading these kākā, and I wrote ‘ārahi’, but then I looked around for another word and settled on ‘arataki’, which is also the word for the lead bird in a formation flying ahead of the other birds. So I decided ‘arataki’ was a better choice of word. It had a relationship to the world of birds, and there were lots of sayings related to warriors – this battalion were like these birds in the metaphors of battle. It’s not just the shape and origin of words, it’s the links between them and the imagery, that’s what I look for, and that’s probably my best line in this composition – mā te karoro ngā kākā e arataki.